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State Capitol

Ban On Death Penalty For Those With Severe Mental Illness Moves Forward

Stu Johnson

Legislation to prohibit the death penalty for certain severe mental illnesses heads to the Senate floor.  But the House approved measure just barely emerged from committee.  It wasn’t until a senator changed his vote that the legislation got out of committee.

Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Cohron testified in opposition to the bill.  He said the term “documented mental illness” would likely be debated in court. “That phrase documented history is a point that will cause a great deal of litigation.  Documented by who and by who with what qualifications,” said Cohron. 

The legislation pertains to individuals with Schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder or delusional disorder.  Speaking in favor of the measure was Licensed Psychologist Sheila Shuster.   “Well certainly it’s correct that we did not put diagnosis, we put a documented history.  I guess my assumption as a mental health professional was that that documented history would include a diagnosis,” explained Shuster. 

Bill Sponsor Chad McCoy testified the measure would only pertain to cases going forward and would not be retroactive.  He also said the legislation is not an effort to do away with the death penalty entirely. 

Chris Cohron said many mental health disorders can be properly treated if compliant with medication.  He also argued the bill is not narrowly tailored. 

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